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Chicago Skyline Set for Change as Plan Commission Approves Big Projects

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This month's meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission had a very robust agenda presented last Thursday with all projects presented ultimately getting the green light and moving onward towards approval by the full city council or building permits if no other formal approvals are needed. The agenda had a full slate of game-changing projects, including the 93-story Vista Tower designed by Studio Gang and a 76-story South Loop tower designed by Rafael Viñoly.

First up was a courtesy presentation for Chicago's next Apple Store, which will be located on the plaza of 401 North Michigan Avenue, also known as Pioneer Court because it is the approximate location of where Chicago's first non-native settler Jean Baptiste Point DuSable established a fur trading outpost around 1779. The proposal had already been approved by the Department of Planning, however because of the high-profile location adjacent to the Michigan Avenue Bridge, it was presented to the commission at the public hearing.

401 North Michigan Avenue, formerly known as the Equitable Building is currently undergoing an extensive renovation of the lower levels. The building, which was originally designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, used to have a glass pavilion entry when originally built in 1965. The pavilion was removed in the 1990s, but the concept is being re-introduced as the entry point for the new store, which would be positioned below the plaza in what is now a vacant food court. The 20,000 square foot space being developed by Zeller Realty Group is part of the renovation which will also feature a new cafeteria and fitness center for the building employees. The store will be entirely below the plaza, with no retail on the level of Upper Michigan Avenue.

The design of the store was completed by London based Foster+Partners, and will be the firm's first project in Chicago. The design began with seeking a new relationship between Pioneer Court and the river. The current staircase leading to the riverwalk will be demolished and a new cascading staircase arranged like an open-air amphitheater will then be placed between the plaza level and the riverwalk level. The store is then set into this staircase with the new glass pavilion designed to be as transparent as possible, as if it where an open-air structure. Only glazing will separate the store from the outdoor elements. The glass panes facing the river will be as large as 32 feet tall and 10 feet wide, with no mullions and only thin strips of silicone between the panes. An overhanging roof to the south will help to reduce the amount of solar heat gain in the summer time, but slow for heat gain in the winter. A publicly accessible elevator will also be included within the store. The roof structure is to be constructed of carbon fiber, a very strong but lightweight material and allows the structural top of the pavilion to be as thin as possible.

Approximately two million customers per year pass through the existing store on North Michigan Avenue, which be replaced by the new location. Construction is expected to begin in early 2016.

Related reading:
Norman Foster Behind New Prairie-esque Apple Store for Michigan Avenue
The Apple Store is Indeed Moving Down Michigan Avenue

Next on the agenda was the much anticipated Vista Tower, which upon completion around 2019, will become Chicago's new third-tallest building. The development team is a joint venture of the Beijing, China based Wanda Group and Chicago's Magellan Development Group, with the design work overseen by the Chicago architecture firms of Studio Gang and bKL. The project will be located at roughly 400 East Wacker Drive, and represents the first US real estate investment for Wanda and will become a North American beachhead for the Vista brand now being expanded globally.

The project requires an amendment to Planned Development (PD) 70, and the Lake Shore East master plan. The PD covers all of Illinois Center and Lake Shore East together. Lake Shore East, as we know it today, first began major planning work back in 1999, laying out conceptual building massing and heights for the towers that would eventually be developed in phases. The amendment to this plan would allow for height on this particular site in the master plan to increase from 645 feet to 1200 feet while subsequently reducing the height of another site from 900 feet to 680 feet. The site with the reduction in allowable height is known as 'Site O,' located to the south of Studio Gang's Aqua Tower and currently has another planned building presently in the design phase.

Within the Vista Tower, there will be 410 dwelling units, 210 hotel rooms and 334 parking spaces. These numbers equate to a total of 1.6 million square feet of area spread over 93 stories. The tower and the planned local improvements are expected to cost $1 billion and would generate a whopping $19 million annually in property taxes after completion.

The development would extend the uppermost portion of Wacker Drive slightly eastward to create a new turn around to serve as a hotel drop off as well as provide a public pocket park within an extensive landscape plan. A new roadway connection be be constructed through the building linking Upper Wacker Drive to the Lake Shore East community by extending Waterside Drive westward from its present termination at the Regatta. This roadway connection was initially anticipated in the master plan, but presently only pedestrian access currently exists behind The Shoreham building.

The tower was designed as four "stems" which rise to different heights, creating staggered roofs all having outdoor landscaped spaces, except for the uppermost roof which is dedicated for mechanical uses. The hotel is located at the bottom, where the four stems collectively create the largest floor plates. Then the condos are set into three tiers with the first set of condo levels within three stems featuring nine units per floor, the next tier with two stems has only four units per floor and the last set within the one remaining stem featuring full floor units for approximately 20 floors. The shape of the building is created by a series of interlocking frustum geometries, creating portions of the structure which tilt outward and inward on a rhythmic pattern. This geometry also creates a minimum of eight corners per floor rather than the standard four in a traditional box form. The facade will feature a glass tinting gradient selected to reduce anticipated solar heat gain and increase reflectivity accordingly.

While the uppermost level of Wacker Drive would be the main entry point for both the hotel and residences, the building extends five floors further down to the lowest level of Wacker Drive where it intersects Field Boulevard at grade level. This intersection currently is a rather unglamorous expanse of asphalt below the viaduct and also serves as the entry point for the city's Central Auto Impound. As part of creating a new illuminated pedestrian passageway linking the river, the project would install new lighting on the underside of the viaduct and would realign the intersection to improve pedestrian safety. The rebuild will feature a raised intersection with a road diet to narrow the width of the street. The approach of Field Boulevard from the south will then pass through the building and will feature a "scoop" that will provide an welcoming entry gateway.

Wanda Vista will stand 1,194 feet tall, as measured from Chicago City Datum, a standard elevation point from which a uniform height of all buildings can be determined from. After subtracting 7'-9" to reach the natural grade, the actual physical height of the building will be 1,186'-3"; placing it well into third place for Chicago's skyline ranking — a title currently held by the nearby 1,136-foot-tall Aon Center at 200 East Randolph Street. Wanda Vista would also feature a new pedway connection, as well as a new public elevator between Field Boulevard and the new upper level roadway connection. As part of community improvements, Magellan Development Group has agreed to construct a sidewalk and temporary dog park on the presently undeveloped Lake Shore East property between Harbor Drive and Lake Shore Drive.

Related reading:
First Look: Vista Tower Tweaks, Amenities Unveiled at Second Public Meeting
The New Class of Skyscrapers That Will Forever Change the Chicago Skyline
Chicago's Third-Tallest Tower's Interiors Could Look Like This

Third on the agenda was a reappearance of the already approved project at Hubbard and Wells Streets featuring a 22-story rental apartment tower and a 9-story office building. The project was returning to the Plan Commission for a technical amendment to increase the approved amount of units from 180 to 195 with no other changes to FAR or height requested.

The fourth project to be presented was the Rafael Viñoly-designed 76-story tower at the southwest corner of Indiana Avenue and Roosevelt Road. The property is one of three remaining development sites at the north end of Central Station which Crescent Heights purchased after previous development plans fell through during the recession. Under existing approvals already in place, a total of 1,540 new housing units could be constructed. The site was the location of the original sales center for Central Station and is approximately 43,147 square feet in size. The project as presented needed an amendment to Planned Development 499 and a change to the master plan within it, as well as an additional approval under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance which applies extra reviews to proposals located close to the waterfront.

Planned Development 499, which covers the expanse of Central Station, was created with the concept of master plan approvals within it, not typical of other PDs in the city which typically only break up larger PDs with the internal divisions known as sub-areas. Each master plan within PD 499 has separate approvals, with the plan covering this site first created in 1999 and amended in 2001, 2005 and 2008. The most recent plan amendment was for a pre-recession concept for two towers known as Grant Park Tower III and IV which were to stand approximately 790 and 900 feet tall, with the taller building to be located at Michigan and Roosevelt on a equally sized piece of vacant land. The height, as measured to the underside of the ceiling on the highest occupied floor was requested to be raised from 790' to 810'. Above the 76th floor, mechanical space would extend the building higher.

As planned, the new tower would be 996,000 square feet in size with 792 rental apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail at the ground level. There will be 622 parking spaces for a overall ratio of 0.785. The tower is being designed to achieve LEED Silver certification.

The only approval needed at plan commission was for the change in building design to the master plan as well as the Lakefront Protection application, as the tower otherwise fits within the parameters of the larger planned development and no increase in floor area ratio (FAR) is being sought. The previous tower concept proposed in 2008 was designed with larger sized condominiums. In the new Viñoly design, the interior will have a much more diverse unit mix comprised of studio to three-bedroom units ranging from under 500 square feet to over 3,000 square feet in size.

The residential entrance and porte-cochère will be located along Indiana Avenue with all loading activities taking place on a mid-block alley to the south. The tower setbacks begin at the 17th floor, which also includes a landscaped 17,000-square-foot pool deck. The structure then rises similar to the bundled tube form of the Willis (Sears) Tower, except with a concrete frame instead of steel. Structural columns will be 4 feet wide by 4 feet deep and will carry the same dimensions all the way through the height of the building. The most visible part of the tower fronting onto Roosevelt road will create a "long missing tall southern edge to Grant Park," balancing out the skyline line to the north.

Construction is expected to cost $300 million and will take 24 months, producing 1 million man hours for local contractors. Upon completion, the building is expected to have 60 full time employees. Financing is already in place and the project ready to begin very soon. Contractors have already been selected and leading the construction team is McHugh with a commitment made to partner with minority contractors from within the community.

The development team is also contributing $300,000 to the park district to be divided equally among three smaller area parks as well as financial support for the restoration of nearby 2nd Presbyterian Church.

Related reading:
76-Story Rafael Viñoly-Designed Tower Planned for South Loop
Developer's Site Hints at a Rafael Vinoly Designed Tower for the South Loop

Fifth on the agenda is a transit oriented development for 4620 North Western Avenue in Lincoln Square. The site is 86,000 square feet in size and is currently occupied by used car lot and before that, a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Despite the auto-centric use presently there, the site is located only 200 feet from the Western Station of the Brown Line.

The proposed building was designed by Sullivan, Goulette & Wilson, will stand five floors. In total, the building will feature 40 rental units, which will be made up of 25 one bedrooms and 15 studios. A setback at the top floor was provided to reduce the visual massing along the street. Pursuant to the affordable housing ordinance which requires that developers set aside 10 percent of the units for affordable housing, (falling under the previous rules for projects formally proposed before October 15, 2015), two of the units on site will be rented as affordable while a payment into the affordable housing trust fund will be made for remaining two. The ground floor will contain retail space as well parking for 40 bikes and only 10 cars.

The sixth proposal was for the renovations and proposed additions to the Stanley Tigerman-designed Pensacola Place in Uptown at 901-957 West Montrose Avenue. The proposal requested an amendment to existing Planned Development 132 to redefine the sub-areas and expand residential use.

Originally constructed in 1981, the building was one of the very first postmodern designs to be constructed in Chicago. The structure combines 264 apartments with a retail podium, and being a product of its time, also has a large surface parking lot fronting onto the southeast corner of Broadway and Montrose Avenue. The original PD allowed for more residential units on site then what was currently constructed, and the retail podium was design initially for an additional two floors to be added to the top. In this proposal, no additional FAR or unit count is being sought.

The project will convert the ground floor commercial space along Hazel Street to residential. The Podium roof will then receive a four floor addition for a total of 160 additional units. The podium addition will be aligned to the edges of the structure allowing for an interior courtyard at the existing roof level. The design of the renovations as well as the addition is being led by Brininstool+Lynch.

Within Pensacola Place, a contract with the Chicago Housing Authority exists for 29 units now being used for CHA residents, and this arrangement will continue onward as is.

It was also mentioned that the surface parking lot is being targeted for a potential future development concept as well, but this has not yet been designed or formally proposed.

Related Reading:
The Plan to Redevelop Uptown's Postmodern Pensacola Place
Tigerman's Postmodern Pensacola Place Sells for $66M
Pending Sale Could Bring Rehab to Uptown's Pensacola Place

The seventh item on the agenda was another technical amendment to an existing Planned Development. Located at 5225 North Riversedge Terrace, a suburban-esque development located to the northwest of the intersection of Foster and Pulaski and alongside Gompers Park.

The residential Planned Development 546 was first approved in 1994 and is comprised of a mix of single family homes and condominiums in five-story brick mid-rises. 280 units were planned, but only 260 were built as of today, with 4 empty single home lots remaining. Almost all of the allowable FAR has since been constructed and the amendment is to allow for larger average home sizes on the remaining open lots through increasing PD's FAR from .85 to .87.

The last item on the agenda was the largest in scope. Previously called River South, the new Riverline mega-development will be located on 6.57 acres of empty riverfront property to the southeast of the intersection of Harrison and Wells Streets presently zoned DX-7. Proposed, is a new Planned Development with three sub-areas comprising five high-rise buildings arranged around an interior park and new public access to the riverfront. In total, the project now known as Riverline plans 2,699 residential units with an average ratio of .45 parking spaces and 16,500 square feet of ground floor retail space. The development team includes CMK Companies, which purchased most of the riverfront property between Harrison Street and Roosevelt Road last winter and then formed a partnership with Sydney, Australia based Lend Lease. Master planning and architectural design is being performed by Chicago based Perkins + Will.

The towers are designed to include five stories of townhouses lining the parking garage floors, presenting the edges facing the river and new park with occupied space over the entire height of each tower. The riverfront will feature a continuous boardwalk, built over a naturalistic shoreline edge, dog park and water taxi stop at the south end of the site where the alignment of Polk Street meets the river. A bridge over the river did exist at one time at Polk Street, and the currently empty right of way will be used as a pedestrian connection to the new riverwalk buildout.

The towers will be phased and are arraigned as building A (the tallest at 47 stories and 598 feet in height) on the north to Building E on the south. Building D, located at Polk and Wells will be constructed first as phase one, which will include all landscaping in the new park space as well. Building D will be built simultaneously with the first phase of the southern property also being developed by the same development team on the opposite side of River City. That property runs from 1000-1198 South Wells Street, between River City and Roosevelt Road. Building D will contain 452 residential units, 230 parking spaces, a small retail space and will stand in at 31 stories, 320'-11" in height.

Wells Street alongside the site will have the right of way widened by 5'-8" to allow for easier traffic flow as well as a better street condition for multimodal travel. $8.75 million will provided for affordable housing in phases with flexibility to place housing on-site or contribute to the trust fund as the complex is built out. A new traffic signal and left turn lanes would be added to the intersection of Wells and Polk Streets as well as modifications Wells Street intersections at Harrison and Congress. When fully built out, the property will generate $20 million in annual property taxes, plus additional revenue from permit fees and eventual real estate transfer taxes. Construction on phase one should begin shortly after ringing in the new year.

Related reading:
Plan for 2,700 Units May Make River South a Reality
Perkins + Will Scores South Loop Mega-Project, River South

Shawn Ursini